by KC Carlson
Some recent Marvel Comics, branded Marvel NOW!, are getting some buzz. Here’s what I thought:
IF ONE IS GOOD, TWO ARE BETTER
My absolute favorite of the bunch has to be All-New X-Men, and not just because of the talent on the book, writer Brian Michael Bendis and primary artists Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger. (With the able artistic back-up of David Marquez, now that the book is being produced 24 times a year. Sounds a lot more daunting than “twice-monthly”, doesn’t it?)
The “star” of this book is its audacious concept: There are currently two different sets of the five original X-Men running around in the Marvel Universe (except Jean Grey).
In the current day Marvel Universe, Cyclops (Scott Summers) has possibly slipped a gear in his zealot-like protection and development of Mutantkind, an effort mostly waged in secret, until the ramifications of last year’s AvX event. Dark Phoenix resurfaced and, under Scott, many mutants decided that this was the manifestation of a mutant messiah. This led to a global-wide battle with the Avengers, with much destruction, and inadvertently made mutants even more hated and persecuted. At the climax of the battle, Professor Charles Xavier, the former leader of most of the mutants, and still the spiritual leader for many, was killed in a conflict with the Phoenix-powered Cyclops. The Scarlet Witch and Hope (one of the few mutants who manifested in recent years) managed to stop the Dark Phoenix while also providing a spark that re-ignited the mutant race (inadvertently proving Cyclops correct).
Cyclops was jailed, then escaped, forming his own new organization with his few followers (one of whom — Magneto — has already gone down this road, and wants no part of it again, but stays to keep Scott in check). This new group is intent on following Xavier’s former role — finding, protecting, and training these emerging “new” mutants. This storyline is playing out in the pages of the re-started Uncanny X-Men by Bendis and artist Chris Bachalo. It’s another new series which may appeal more to newer readers for the darker tones of the storyline and characters. Here, Cyclops is creating the New Charles Xavier School for the gifted to train and protect the “new” mutants they find.
But I was talking about All-New X-Men. In this series, the long-familiar mutants we know and love have decamped to the Wolverine-founded Jean Grey School for Higher Learning (the setting for the Wolverine and the X-Men series), where Storm, Beast, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, and others are staff/faculty. Beast, fueled by an offhand comment by Iceman about how the Cyclops of old wouldn’t tolerate the current version, goes back in time and convinces the original teenage X-Men (Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey) to come to the future (the current-day Marvel Universe) to help stop the adult Cyclops from committing mutant genocide. They agree. So, time anomalies aside, the original five X-Men are now in the future/present/Now and have to cope with coexisting with their older selves (who are possibly evil, further mutated, whatever happened to Angel, or dead!). The youngsters all enroll in the school. (And how weird must it be for Jean to be going to a school that’s named in her memory?)
Thankfully, most of this is being done with a light touch, although young Angel is not pleased about being in “the future” because his older self is weird, and Jean may be manifesting some pre-Phoenix tendencies without a Charles Xavier around to help her cope with it.
Upcoming story possibilities are endless as the “kids” try to fit in and deal with this bizarre circumstance. Their presence in this era is no longer a secret due to a recent encounter with the Avengers. And how good is it to be able to read “new” adventures of Jean Grey once again?!
By the way, since the kids are now enrolled in the Jean Grey school, that leaves them open to occasionally cameo in the school’s other book, Wolverine and the X-Men, which has also been going through some structural changes of late. Check out the revised (and amusing) Organizational Chart of the school in the recent Wolverine and the X-Men #25.
OCK! A SPIDER!
I’m too old and jaded to think that Marvel would actually kill off one of their best-known and longest-running characters. (Especially one with an ongoing major film franchise, as well as a popular animated series and an ongoing newspaper strip.) But damn if writer Dan Slott and a slew of Spidey artists and editors didn’t have me wondering for a few seconds about the recent goings-on in Amazing Spider-Man and (now) Superior Spider-Man. Others were not as lucky — or informed — as recent Spidey lettercols have been filled with angst and panic over the (supposed) death of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. Such is the power of the emotional investment thousands of fans have made with this truly unique character, often imitated but never duplicated.
Over the last year, we’ve been reminded that Dr. Octopus’ powerful and near-intelligent mechanical arms have made him possibly THE Spidey foe (although the Green Goblin has certainly done more to actually screw up Spidey’s life over the years). The power of the mechanics have always overshadowed that Dr. Ock is actually much older than Peter Parker. Last year, his age, and constant beatings, finally caught up with him. Doc Ock was dying!
By rebuilding the classic villain team, the Sinister Six, Doc Ock was able to continue the ongoing struggle with Parker, without actually being present. Doc Ock was behind the scenes in many Spidey adventures over the past year or two, ultimately preparing a last-ditch plan (too lengthy to describe here) to finally defeat his long-time foe, using one of comic book’s most hoariest of clichés — the body-swap. Thus, in their final battle, Peter Parker — in the failing body of Doc Ock — finally succumbs to the inevitable — Ock’s body dies with Parker’s life-force trapped within. But not before Parker as Ock somehow manages to transfer all of Parker’s values and memories into Doc Ock just before dying, forcing Ock to reassess his plans and become the new defender of New York. This being retained Ock’s ego, claiming he will be a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man ever was — he will become the SUPERIOR Spider-Man!
And in fact, he does! He immediately expands on Parker’s crime-fighting gear — improving the web-shooters and inventing a citywide crime-monitoring system. Amazingly, he also becomes a better “Peter Parker” as well, doting on Aunt May and charming estranged girlfriends like Mary Jane and Carlie Cooper (who is too suspicious to be fooled). For long-time fans, there’s an amusing sort of “ick” factor here, especially since decades ago, May and Otto were sweet on each other and almost wed! “Doc Spidey” also has a new (and weird) relationship with J. Jonah Jameson and recently decided to go back to school to complete Parker’s long-neglected Ph.D.!
In a surprise twist, it’s revealed that a spark of Parker is still alive in Ock’s brain, and Peter acts as a Firestorm/Jiminy Cricket-like conscience to a so-far-unaware Doc Ock. Which threatens to make Superior Spider-Man the most bizarre (yet hysterical) buddy comedy ever.
All is not sweetness and light. Despite Parker’s lingering influence, “Doc Spidey” is a brutal proactive foe against other criminals, going so far as breaking Spidey’s no-kill rule in a couple of instances. Plus, he’s starting to irritate (and thus tip-off) some of Spidey’s friends, such as his coworkers at Horizon Labs and fellow Avengers. In an upcoming issue, he gets booted out of the super-hero team.
By yanking the rug out from under everybody, Slott and company have managed to freshen up the entire Spidey franchise. And provide some thrilling comic books.
AVENGERS ALL OVER THE MAP
Speaking of Avengers, I’m having to make some adjustment in my previous favorite comics, the core Avengers titles. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writer Jonathan Hickman’s current take on Avengers and New Avengers — it’s just such a completely different style than the previous writer, Brian Michael Bendis. Hickman’s stuff tends to be more cerebral and thoughtful than Bendis’ chatty and in-your-face treatment. Plus, Hickman is writing graphic novels, and I just don’t feel like I get enough in each individual issue. (I felt the same way about Hickman’s great Fantastic Four run and loved the series read in bigger chunks.) If I had to choose right now, I think I’d give the edge to New Avengers, as I quite like the concept of the Illuminati in the Marvel Universe (with the supposed “good guys” acting all evil-like, while trying to hide and protect the Infinity Gems). I’m also less likely to enjoy Avengers because of concepts being included that I’ve never gotten into — like the New Universe and Captain Universe — although I’m willing to give them a chance — unless it takes 20-some issues to get to the point.
I’ve already dropped Avengers Arena, after giving it five issues (four too many). I will award it Most Tasteless Title of this year, however, as it’s a comic book snuff film, with a bunch of B- and Z-level characters brought together just to be killed off issue by issue. I imagine that younger readers who like first-person-shooter games and other death-happy fare will quite like this. As an older person who’s had to deal with the consequences of real-life deaths, I find this whole genre most offensive. And sad, now that my favorite comic book franchise has succumbed to it.
I haven’t dropped them yet, but I’m also not really enjoying the Marvel NOW! versions of Captain America and Iron Man. Cap’s book (drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson) is absolutely beautiful to look at. But I’ve never been a fan of Jack Kirby’s last, solo run on the book from… uh, 30-some years ago. Writer Rick Remender is, since this series is obviously a love note to it. It’s certainly eye-inspiring, but I thought the idea of Marvel Now was to give us New concepts for Now people.
I want to like Iron Man but the artwork (by Greg Land) is so, SO boring, I literally can’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep three times reading #1, and then skipping it, I had the same reaction with #2. There’s something about Land’s sedate artwork — it’s like “reading” an entire issue of advertising photographs that have been traced or something. Who would do that?
One solo Avengers book that I can get wholeheartedly behind is Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction and (usually) David Aja (although I also loved the practically 24-hour comic drawn by Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm that was issue #6, a special Super Storm Sandy issue). Hawkeye is a rarity in modern comics: a superhero comic written and told in an indy-friendly way. It’s one of those books (like the current Daredevil) that could be just as influential on the comic book world as was Frank Miller’s Daredevil. With its tiny, tiny panels spotlighting isolated action, unique page layouts (and story breakdowns), seemingly (but not) monochromatic color palette, and Matt Fraction’s droll but hysterical scripts, it’s easily one of mainstream comics’ most enjoyable reads. (It’s also equally difficult to believe that this is actually a mainstream book — and that’s a compliment!) Add in the fact that the book also features another Hawkeye (the ever-competent Kate Bishop, one of the best characters created in recent history) and a dog! and you have one of my most frequently anticipated reads of each month! It’s not exactly for your average superhero fan — but if you fall into that category, you owe it to yourself to try something new and a little different!
JOHANNA SAYS “STOP WRITING!” SO… SHORT TAKES!
Fraction is also doing a bang-up job on Marvel’s Fantastic Four and FF titles, both of them keeping the good stuff that Hickman brought to the titles while at the same time making them uniquely his. Mark Bagley is doing some of the best stuff of his career on Fantastic Four, and Mike and Laura Allred are bringing their quirky style to FF, which Fraction has made even quirkier with his misfit team of characters.
For sheer audacity, however, you need to check out Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s new Indestructible Hulk, where you’ll believe that a Hulk can be an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Any issue is great, but make sure to check out #2, guest-starring Tony Stark, whose rivalry with Bruce Banner is occasionally a Hulk-inducing trigger in Waid’s twisted hands. Walter Simonson is appearing soon as the artist for a several-issue arc beginning with #6. It’s Hulkariffic!
KC CARLSON: Sincerely hopes he sees Jerry Ordway’s name (and work!) on a new ongoing Marvel — or self-published! — series soon! DC Comics: Decidedly Cruel! (Although they ARE bringing back Astro City soon!) (grumble grumble, can’t be too mean… )
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.